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Box office hot for ‘Harry Potter’

Warner film out on record number of screens

Marking the widest opening in the studio’s history, Warner Bros. rolls out “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” on more than 9,000 screens in 4,285 locations Wednesday, while dispatching 13,100 prints to overseas markets.

Wednesday’s domestic bow marks the highest theater count on record for any studio after this summer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” which opened in 4,362 locations domestically. It is also Warners’ biggest international rollout ever.

Warners is using another new spell as well. For the first time, a “Harry Potter” pic is bowing mid-week, meaning a five-day opening. It’s no surprise that Warners wants to conjure up the biggest opening it can, since it has only two weeks before Fox bows “The Simpsons.”

The only other “Potter” film to bow in the summer, “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” was the lowest performing film in the franchise, although its domestic take was still a hefty $249.5 million. The other three films debuted just before Thanksgiving.

Just as Warners wants cushion before “Simpsons,” other studios have done everything they can to get out of the way of “Phoenix,” given the spell the franchise has cast on moviegoers. First four pics in the “Potter” series have grossed more than $3.5 billion worldwide.

In addition to regular theaters, Warners is opening “Phoenix” in 91 Imax theaters, besting previous record holder “Spider-Man,” which opened in 84. Pic will play on 35 Imax screens overseas.

“Phoenix” is expected to score the highest opening of any Potter film, surpassing the $102.6 million domestic bow for last fall’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” At a running time of 2 hours and 18 minutes, it’s the shortest of the five films, which means more runs per day.

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which kicked off the pic series in 2001, remains the highest grossing, both domestically and worldwide, with a domestic take of $317.6 million and an overall cume of $976.5 million; 2005’s “Goblet of Fire,” the most recent film, came in second, with a domestic cume of $290 million.

The final book in J.K. Rowling’s series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” hits the stands July 21.

Overseas bounty

While the film franchise plays gangbusters in the U.S., it has made a larger percentage of its money overseas.

International coin has contributed more than 68% of the worldwide gross of $3.5 billion, or $2.4 billion. The first film was the highest at $651 million, while the third (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) was the lowest at $540 million.

Japan has been by far the biggest supporter of the four pics with $509 million in combined box office, followed by the U.K. ($345 million), Germany ($240 million) and France ($199 million).

On the foreign front, the studio is opening “Phoenix” in nearly all major markets, although pic won’t open in Japan — a cash cow for the franchise — until the weekend of July 20. Wednesday launches include Australia, France, Italy, Russia and Spain, with Germany, South Korea and the U.K. following on Thursday. Movie doesn’t open in China until Aug. 10.

Rivals have cleared out of the way in international markets, with no other major new launches set for the next two weekends. The next big international opening will come at the end of July, when Fox plans to go day and date globally with “The Simpsons Movie.”

Still, the international market’s more competitive for “Phoenix” than it was earlier this summer for the launches of “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,”

“Phoenix” will face competition from a trio of tentpoles — Par’s “Transformers” and “Shrek the Third” and Fox’s “Live Free or Die Hard” –that will remain significant players internationally for several more weekends.

Pics that will lose foreign playdates to “Phoenix” are the long-running tentpoles — “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” “Ocean’s Thirteen” and “Pirates 3.”

Back at home

“Transformers” could see a 50% drop in its second frame, although even then, it should see a hefty take. Heading into their third frame are “Ratatouille” and “Live Free or Die Hard.”

There are several niche pics opening this weekend, while several other specialty titles are expanding, including Michael Moore’s docu “Sicko,” which will increase its theater count from 702 to 756 on Friday. Through Monday, film’s cume was nearly $12 million, a strong showing for a documentary at this point in a run.

New offerings will include Don Cheadle’s “Talk to Me,” which Focus Features opens Friday in 33 theaters. Sony Pictures Classics releases “Interview” in seven Gotham and L.A. theaters, while IFC opens “My Best Friend” on three screens in those two cities.

The other wide release is horror title “Captivity,” whose debut was delayed because of a ratings dust-up with the MPAA. DistribAfter Dark Films opens the pic Friday on 1,500 screens. Online movie site Fandango reported that “Phoenix” was accounting for 90% of all ticket sales as of midday Tuesday, more than for “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” at the same point in time.

Roughly 95% of ticket buyers for “Phoenix” have already purchased, or are planning to purchase, a copy of “Deathly Hallows,” according to Fandango.

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